The covert operative guide to the tradecraft tactics and strategies for detecting imminent threats in urban environments, enhancing your situational awareness and professional / personal security.


In the work of street level covert operations, operatives employ advanced situational awareness to preemptively detect potential imminent threats to engage, neutralize or otherwise respond, a skill that, when adapted, can significantly enhance personal safety in everyday urban environments.

Civilians can apply similar principles of tradecraft to enhance their personal safety. This guide focuses on how to detect signs of an imminent attack while navigating urban streets, drawing from techniques used by operatives in the field.


          Understanding Baseline Behavior

Before you can identify anomalies, you must understand what is normal. Every environment has a baseline – the usual activity and behavior of that place at a given time.

Observe Patterns:   Pay attention to the daily rhythms of the areas you frequent. Notice the typical crowd size, common behaviors, and regular routines.


Identify Locals:   Recognize those who are part of the regular scene, such as shopkeepers, street vendors, or other locals. This can also include vehicles and maintenance / construction workers.


          Detecting Anomalies

Once you have a sense of the baseline, anomalies become more apparent. These deviations might indicate a potential threat.

Incongruent Group Dynamics:   Groups moving with a different purpose or in a more coordinated manner than others around them could be a red flag.


Rehearsal Signals:   Individuals or groups practicing movements or exchanging covert signals could be conducting a dry run for an attack.


          Recognizing Surveillance

Being followed or surveilled can be a precursor to an attack. Operatives are trained to detect surveillance through specific methods.

Spotting the Spotter:   Look for individuals who seem more interested in watching others than in their own activities. They may try to look “normal” staying in one spot, pretending to be waiting for someone or on a fake phone call.


Patterns of Movement:   If you see the same person or vehicle repeatedly in different locations, this could be a sign of surveillance.


          Environmental Awareness

Your surroundings as well as the structures, humans and vehicles within it can offer clues and provide actionable advantages for better decision-making and abilities to the point of prescience.

Entry / Escape Routes:   Always identify multiple exits and exit routes in any environment as an ongoing and dynamic mindset. In reverse, this can also be used to predict how and from where an attack will materialize.


Obstacles and Cover:   Be aware of places that could serve as cover in the event of an attack or where you might be trapped. Again, in reverse, this can be used to extrapolate points of attacks.


          Potential Signs of an Imminent Attack

Eye Contact Avoidance:   Individuals actively avoiding eye contact or appearing overly conscious of being observed, often a sign of someone with a hidden agenda.

Inappropriate Attire:   People wearing clothing that is not suitable for the current weather conditions, such as heavy coats in warm weather, which could be used to conceal weapons or explosives.

Unattended Bags or Packages:   Bags, backpacks, or packages left unattended, particularly in crowded or strategic locations, could indicate a potential threat.


Rehearsal Actions:   Groups or individuals practicing movements, timing, or interacting in a way that suggests coordination and planning, akin to a rehearsal for an orchestrated event.

Anomalous Vehicles:   Vehicles parked in odd locations, left unattended in no-parking zones, or vehicles that reappear in various locations raising suspicion of surveillance or preparation for an attack.

Abnormal Crowd Movement:   Sudden, unexplained changes in crowd movements, such as rapid dispersion or convergence, which could indicate a reaction to a perceived or real threat.


Distractions:   Sudden disturbances or commotions that could be designed to distract or disperse crowds, creating vulnerability for a secondary action.

Rapid Departures:   Individuals or groups quickly departing an area immediately after leaving packages, bags, or interacting with an object in a suspicious manner.

Interrupted Routines:   A noticeable change in the routine or behavior of the local environment, such as vendors closing shop unexpectedly or an unusual decrease in pedestrian traffic.


Electronics Handling:   Individuals handling electronic devices in an unusual manner, such as repeatedly manipulating a phone or device without engaging in typical communication behavior, possibly indicating remote detonation activities.

Security Bypass Attempts:   Persons trying to enter buildings or areas through exits, avoiding security checkpoints, or showing undue interest in security procedures.

Physical Barricades:   The sudden appearance of physical obstructions or barriers that could be used to channelize or control the movement of crowds during an attack.

Recognizing these signs can be instrumental in averting or mitigating the impact of hostile actions in urban environments.


          Operative Instincts

Operatives are trained to trust their gut feelings. If something feels off, it’s worth paying attention to.

Heed Warning Signs:   Your subconscious might notice something amiss even if your conscious mind hasn’t pinpointed it yet.


Alert System:   Instincts are a type of early detection system but is subtle and only as good as your other skills and capabilities. Listen to it when it senses an attack.



As per tradecraft, the ability to anticipate and detect potential threats is crucial. While the average person is not facing the same level of risk as an operative, these skills can significantly enhance personal safety in urban environments.

The key is not to live in fear or paranoia but to be always prepared and aware. By understanding these concepts, you can better protect yourself and navigate urban spaces with increased security and confidence.

[INTEL : Street Pre-Attack Indicators: Guide]
[INTEL : Intuitive Cognition Tradecraft]
[OPTICS : Budapest, Hungary]